What the other side is saying about Common Core
Local influence and privacy among Common Core concerns
May 4, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Despite being adopted by nearly all states, Common Core has not gone without some pushback.
Indiana recently rejected Common Core all together. Politicians in New York are pushing a bill that would postpone the impact of Common Core standards, and Common Core seems to be on life support in South Carolina. Even a disgruntled father has had a Facebook post go viral after expressing his disdain for the mathematics section of the Common Core assessment.
A group of local parents and citizens also has been organized to share its concerns regarding Common Core. Steamboat Springs mom Kelly Wilson is one of those with hesitations about the new standards.
Wilson's original goal was to learn as much about Common Core as possible and educate other community members. She has done work within the Steamboat and South Routt school districts, and she said two large concerns of the group center on losing local power and data collection.
"Steamboat is a wonderful district with fabulous teachers and superior curriculum," Wilson said. "If testing and a part of the curriculum are taken to a national level, what relevance do the school board or teachers have at a local level?"
Nationally, Jim Stergios, executive director of the Boston-based, non-partisan public policy research nonprofit Pioneer Institute, suggests local control can be used as an idea to improve Common Core.
"Our goal is not to just undo Common Core; we work on education issues with people who are for or against Common Core," Stergios said. "The thing is, many of the proponents of Common Core would like to eliminate the need for school boards. But we need local input, teacher input and parent input. The people in (Washington) D.C. do not trust local folks to make our own decisions."
Laura Boggs, a former Jefferson County School Board member, has been involved with the Common Core standards adoption process in her respective district throughout the past few years and suggests allowing districts to choose between the current Transitional Colorado Assessment Program and the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
"The state should allow districts to have flexibility with local control in terms of what tests are used," Boggs said. "Just like high school students have the option to take the ACT or SAT, the CDE should give districts a sweep of options and allow districts to offer different tests."
Boggs said it is up to the parents and community members to regain local control.
"Parents need to be involved," Boggs said. "They need to do their homework. They need to be asking, 'what is the curriculum?' They need to be involved with the school board."
Another concern surfacing with local residents as well as others on a national level is data collection.
"There are more than 460 data fields collected for each student," Wilson said. "The information is used outside of districts."
On each test in Colorado, demographic data is collected, and during a pilot study in Jefferson County, it was processed through the Atlanta-based nonprofit inBloom. In August, the Jefferson County School Board met with representatives from the Colorado State Board of Education and inBloom to decide if they would continue using inBloom for data collection and organization for other districts in the state. In November, they decided to scrap plans to use inBloom's cloud data collection system.
"Another group will rise up to do the data collection and organization," Wilson said. "Data collection is an important aspect to Common Core."
The idea of inBloom is to give teachers an opportunity to look at student data to adjust teaching methods and content. InBloom collects data content from grades to family status to behavior issues. Parents in New York are especially concerned about having personal data attached to names of students — enough to file a lawsuit in November against inBloom. In February, like Jefferson County, New York decided to halt plans to continue working with inBloom.
"There are about 10 to 20 out of the more than 400 data points currently collected that are needed to assess education and drive progress in public schools," Stergios said. "If people knew what data is collected and stored, I think they would be upset."
Quality of content
Although Steamboat Curriculum Director Marty Lamansky has stated assessments make up a fraction of curriculum planning, advocates opposing Common Core have their doubts. Stergios suggests the content created from Common Core is preparing students for more of a "worker's" mentality instead of a "higher education" mentality.
"In English language arts, the switch from literary, fictional works to nonfiction has left an absence of deep and meaningful vocabulary and is directed more toward vocational preparation instead of higher education," Stergios said. "In Massachusetts, Common Core has pushed the basic level of Algebra from eighth grade standards to ninth and 10th grade standards. Again, the floor is too low for higher education."
Advocates for Common Core view the standards as the floor, and districts can add whatever they choose to the curriculum and testing, but Stergios remains doubtful.
"The PARCC test does not test what districts add on," Stergios said. "Only certain districts and teachers will teach past the floor."
Nevertheless, Stergios's largest concern is Common Core standards are creating generations of "workers" instead of well-prepared college students.
"The standards are fine if we want to produce factory workers and students ready to succeed in non-selective community and state colleges," Stergios said. "Developing students for a workforce is fine, but let's develop students as human beings with wisdom and ethics and judgment. Our kids should be entrepreneurs with a human side. Not just workers for a large company."
One aspect of Common Core that both sides seem to agree on is that parents and citizens can do more.
"We all deal with standards every day," Boggs said. "There are standard wheel sizes. There are standards in door size. There are standards in every size and measurement. What Common Core allows us to do is frame the conversation so that parents and school boards and teachers can have conversations about expectations and curriculums. But it takes work. It is time we all did our homework." ■